Follow The Five P's to Win Small Business Competitions. Rule 3: No Powerpoint!

Last Updated Jan 14, 2011 4:42 PM EST

Patty Mueller (that's her at right) runs Idea Factory Inc., a $3 million, ten-employee company that markets gizmos that attach to faucets and showers to make it easier to bathe kids, pets, and, soon, your teeth. When she heard about the The Nielsen Consumer Product Enhancement Competition at an event run by the Women's Business Development Center, she jumped on it.

The prizes weren't huge: $10,000 in cash; $10,000 worth of consulting and market data from Nielsen; and a chance to meet with buyers from Walgreens, the national drugstore chain. But that's exactly what Mueller knew she needed to boost into the next level of distribution, especially for her next new product, a dental spray. Mueller won her beauty pageant because she aced the 5 competition commandments. Here's how you can too.
Purpose: Be sure you can say exactly why you're competing and how you'll make the prize pay off. Gear your pitch to the strategic boost your company will get from the money, services or other goodies.

Mueller gave specific examples of how she would use both the cash and the Nielsen data to achieve her next goal - properly positioning her new product. She presented homegrown market research about how she would approach Walgreens and explained why the Nielsen data would dramatically improve her chances - in the process, appealing to the judges from both Walgreens and Nielsen. And she explained why customers like products from IdeaFactory and what she wanted to learn about her customers from Nielsen data.

Performance: Follow the competition's directions. Painfully obvious, right? But seven of the 25 applicants didn't do that, says Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. (Nielsen sponsored the contest to get the word out among women-owned companies about its consumer-product sales tracking and data services. Only Chicago-area companies were eligible, and word was put out only through the WBDC.)

The rules were pretty basic: To compete, a company had to have at least $500,000 in annual revenues, giving it the manufacturing capacity to take on a Walgreens order if it landed one. Seven contenders were knocked out because they weren't big enough.
Bonus: To drive home the point that you're in command, provide facts about your business that illustrate your mastery of operational basics, like revenues and strategic planning.

Presence, Not Powerpoint! Whatever you do, don't just submit a canned Powerpoint presentation. Customize your pitch to reflect the style of the organizations hosting the competition. Help the judges imagine you as the perfect spokeswinner for their competition - and for the brands or other sponsors.

Passion: Don't curb your enthusiasm. You know those reality television shows like The Apprentice, in which everyone fawns over The Donald: "I want to work for you, Mr. Trump!" Don't drool, but do show your enthusiasm and your absolute conviction.

Mueller injected urgency into her pitch by pulling from her experience as a corporate marketer for a major paper-goods manufacturer. Even though IdeaFactory has gotten shelf space from the likes of Lowe's and Home Depot, she said that small vendors like her are always in danger of being squeezed out as retailers continue to consolidate. Her audition with the Walgreens buyer, she said, could open up an important new venue for IdeaFactory.

Polish: "You're presenting to a corporate audience," says Neilsen's Pearson-McNeil. "Make sure your presentation is polished enough to stand on its own. Use a cute anecdote if it's appropriate, but your whole presentation can't be a cute anecdote."

Recap: Yes to Purpose, Performance, Presence, Passion, and Polish. No to cute.